Saturday, May 26, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 12

Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on May 14th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 10

Don't turn a blind eye to conservation

When in drought, manage your spout


As a certified sustainable gardener, I practice water conservation in my gardens and in my home. Having worked with the best landscape designers in the Santa Cruz area during the initial signs of this water crisis in late 2012, I have witnessed firsthand the impact drought can have on a community. At that time, Santa Cruz was implementing mandatory water restrictions and switching over to drought-tolerant landscape designs because of the shortage of water. The writing is on the wall, but the message of awareness has not yet reached our neck of the woods in the Santa Maria Valley.

When my small group communication instructor Amy Ward gave the class an assignment to “find a current issue on the Hancock campus or in the community and present solutions for the problem,” I jumped on the opportunity to share what I knew with my fellow team members. The enthusiasm quickly spread throughout the group; we named ourselves “LOW H2O” and developed our mantra: “When in drought, manage your spout.” We aimed our focus on the problem: water awareness in the Santa Maria Valley. We set out on a mission, digging through public records, databases, photos, and personal interviews for the right information to present to the class.

Our studies showed that a large percentage of people in the Santa Maria Valley turn a blind eye to the thought of water conservation and drought. Many people we spoke to had no idea where our water even comes from. The individuals who did know were under the false impression that “we have an abundant supply stored in our aquifer” or “the water crisis is just a south Santa Barbara County problem.” Meanwhile, our gutters are flowing with runoff water from afternoon lawn irrigations, and pipes, toilets, and sinks remain broken or inefficient. The citizens of Santa Maria are flushing the world’s most precious resource down the drain, literally.

To understand any problem, you must first go to the source. Ask the questions: Where do we get our water? Do we really have an “endless surplus of water?” And finally, what are the consequences if we don’t conserve water? As we all know, the city of Santa Barbara is in quite a pinch, facing possible mandated water restrictions in the near future. Their primary and alternative water sources becoming scarce, this leaves the options of imported water and desalination as Santa Barbara’s only resort.

Here in the Santa Maria Valley, we face a different scenario. According to an interview with a USGS surveyor, the Santa Maria Valley Basin is one of the richest aquifers in central California. So obviously groundwater in our basin is the primary source of water for the Santa Maria Valley. Our water table level changes from season to season, and summer time is when the most usage occurs. When the levels get too low, we open the spillway of Twitchell Reservoir and saved storm water is discharged into the Santa Maria River to replenish our water table as somewhat of a second source of water.

Have you seen Twitchell Reservoir lately? It’s bone dry. Luckily, we have our third source of water: the State Water Project, or SWP. The SWP gives us a yearly ration of its water collected from the melted snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The water is diverted from its natural rivers and streams and redirected through an elaborate 600-mile canal system, dispensing small amounts of water to cities like Santa Maria. This system bypasses the farmers of the Central Valley who, for years, depended on water from those rivers and streams to irrigate their crops, leaving farmers to fend for themselves or go belly up. The majority of the SWP water goes straight to Southern California, like a statewide act of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Earlier in 2014, NOAA reported the lowest amount of snow and rainfall in the history of California, leaving the state with the ugly task of prioritizing with the elements of supply and demand. This means that the water is most likely going to where the money is—or, in correct terms, “where the population is.” There is a very good possibility that

if we don’t get rain, we can be in the same situation as the farmers of the Central Valley.

Did you know that 29 percent of Santa Maria’s water usage goes to agriculture, and agriculture is a major part of our economy? This is one of the main reasons why we should conserve water in Santa Maria. The local farmers must consider this notion and focus on better ways to water their fields. Avoiding spray irrigation and flood irrigation is the best way. Studies show that improper watering wastes up to 50 percent through evaporation, sun, and wind. I know there are a few farmers now who use drip or centralized watering systems, but more local farmers should be doing this.

According to the EPA, “Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons a year.” When you really think about what is truly essential for survival, watering the lawn is the biggest waste. What function does a green lawn have in drought conditions? Just like I mentioned earlier, spray irrigation wastes water, and most lawns use spray sprinklers to water. I suggest switching over to drought tolerant or xeriscape designs; they are highly functional to our environment, promoting water conservation and attracting beneficial insects.

Another incentive to saving water is saving money on your water bill; in fact, some cities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties have rebate programs that will give up to $1,000 to switch over to drought-tolerant landscapes.

Monitoring usage in the household is another great way to conserve water. The EPA also says “the average household uses 320 gallons of water a day.” A running toilet can waste 200 gallons a day, and usually it’s just a $3 fix. Another way to conserve around the household is hand-washing dishes; this can save up to 50 gallons per a day. Shutting the water off while shaving or brushing your teeth can save water as well. You will also feel better knowing that your efforts are helping the environment

In conclusion, I urge you to think about the fact that throughout history every ancient civilization was founded around water, and when those water sources became scarce, societies perished. Most importantly, think about all the efforts made to control oil within the last 20 years, and oil just feeds our material needs. Water gives life to humans. Santa Maria needs you to play your part in this statewide effort. Avoid turning a blind eye to the fact that we are all in this together. Californians show a tremendous amount of pride in our state, its resources, and its wildlife. We must take the opportunity to give back to our precious state. Let’s be able to reap the harvest of water conservation for our future.


Steven Hillock, Jr., is an Allan Hancock College student and owner/operator of a local landscaping business focused on drought-tolerant gardening methods. Send comments to the executive editor at

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